It was 1987 and I was 11 years old. I had just been forced by my parents to move across town and go to a new school. I was not happy about it and refused to make new friends. I loved my old elementary school and I hated leaving my friends. In an attempt to integrate me into my new school, a girl in my class had asked if I wanted to hang out with her at the local junior hockey game one night and my mother had forced me to go. With a roll of my eyes, I made my way out the door while my mother waved at me with a big hopeful smile.
My new friend and I walked into the arena and weaved our way through the crowd to find our seats. It was loud, crowded, and it smelled awful as we took our seats near the tunnel that led to the players bench. I was not happy. I was especially irritated, as the game started, when the crowd erupted in cheers and screaming as the hometown team scored a goal because I wasn’t paying attention and the sound scared the hell out of me. I could not have been more annoyed at that point. I just wanted to go home.
As I sat there in my seat, my new friend clearly enjoying the game, I crossed my arms over my chest and slumped in my chair while passively watching what was going on among the players. A goal was scored by the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors and I chuckled at the collective groan from the crowd. I overheard the older gentleman behind me mutter to his friend, “it’s always gotta be that kid, doesn’t it?” I furrowed my brows, wondering what he meant.
As the game moved on, I learned that the older men were talking about a young Theo Fleury. Unknown to me at that time, Theo was in his last season with the Moose Jaw club and would go on to earn 68 goals and 92 assists in 65 games with the small city junior hockey team.
At one point during my first hockey game, I overheard someone in the crowd refer to Theo as “the thorn in our side,” and I quickly found out why. In that game alone, Theo tallied a point on every Moose Jaw goal. His skill to acquire goals and assists surprised even the most skeptical of spectators – namely, me. I didn’t like hockey, I didn’t watch it on a regular basis, and I couldn’t have cared less that night to have been at that game. But Theo caught my attention. Because I wasn’t happy about being forced to attend a hockey game with a friend I barely knew, I secretly grinned every time the visitors got a goal, which, in turn, meant that I was smiling at Theo down on the ice.
Theo Fleury. Even to an untrained eye, such as mine, I couldn’t help but realize how incredible he was on the ice. I felt like a traitor as I watched in wonder at the smaller player in the opposition’s jersey, who seemed to skate like a rocket and shoot like he played in the pro leagues. And, as an 11 year old girl, I formed a crush on a guy who was seemingly a lot older than I was. His smile beamed as he acquired his third point of the night and skated over to his teams bench for the celebratory high fives from his teammates.
Theo went on to earn second place in scoring that year, just behind Joe Sakic of the Swift Current Broncos during the 1987-88 season.
My hockey senses had been awakened.
To be continued…